Provocative lumbar discography versus functional anesthetic discography: a comparison of the results of two different diagnostic techniques in 52 patients with chronic low back pain

Todd F Alamin, Mi J Kim, Vijay Agarwal
Spine Journal: Official Journal of the North American Spine Society 2011, 11 (8): 756-65

BACKGROUND CONTEXT: There is mounting evidence that the currently available techniques for the diagnosis of discogenic low back pain are insufficiently accurate-this may explain some of the variability in outcomes of surgery for this important clinical problem. New diagnostic methods are needed to address this diagnostic issue; improvements here may do as much to improve overall patient outcomes as improvements in surgical treatment methods.

PURPOSE: To compare the results of standard pressure-controlled provocative discography (PD) to those of the functional anesthetic discogram (FAD) in a series of patients presenting with chronic low back pain and considering surgical treatment.

STUDY DESIGN: Prospective clinical series in an academic spinal surgical practice.

PATIENT SAMPLE: Fifty-two patients presenting with chronic low back pain; mean age 45 years (range, 24-70 years); 28 women, 24 men; and 25% in workman's compensation program.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Oswestry, visual analog scale for back pain, distress and risk assessment method psychometric analysis, demographic data, magnetic resonance imaging scan of lumbar spine. During provocative discogram: pressurization at pain, pain level, and concordancy. During FAD: position or activity used to elicit typical pain, baseline pain level before injection, during injection, at 5, 10, and 20 minutes after the injection, and substance injected.

METHODS: Standard pressure-controlled PD was performed, followed by (in positive cases or in patients with clinical features and imaging studies felt to be highly suggestive of symptomatic disc degeneration) the FAD test-an assessment of the response to injection of a low dose of local anesthetic into the disc during a position productive of the patient's typical pain.

RESULTS: Discordant results of the two tests were noted in 46% of the patients in the series. Of them, 26% of patients with positive PD had negative findings on the FAD test; 16% had positive findings at a single level only, whereas the provocative discogram had been positive at two or more levels; 4% had new positive findings on the FAD test.

CONCLUSIONS: We have presented the results of a new diagnostic technique in 52 patients with chronic low back pain presumed discogenic in origin that was designed to help differentiate between symptomatic and asymptomatic disc degeneration. The findings of the test differed from those of standard pressure-controlled PD in 46% of the cases reported on here. Further studies are needed to demonstrate the clinical utility of the test.

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